Over 2,000 farmers, apprentices, urban farmers, artisans, and homesteaders young and experienced attended the 22nd annual ‘Farming For The Future Conference,’ organized and hosted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) in State College, PA. Workshops covered a diverse range of topics such as soil life, backyard poultry, hoop house health, animal midwifery, charcuterie, biodynamics, fruit tree pruning, irrigation, etc., etc., etc.! I took home invaluable information from farmers who pioneered the organic and local food movement, and came away feeling more inspired than ever to carry the trowel forward.
1.) The Soil Web: Plants excrete chemicals through their roots (called exudates) that attract microorganisms to their root zone (rhizosphere). These bacteria and fungi use plant exudates as a carbon source that give them the needed energy to break down soil nutrients and fix nitrogen. These nutrients become soluble to the plants when the bacteria and fungi die and/or are digested by lager organisms such as protozoa and nematodes. You see, the plants have it all under control, which means we can put the chemicals and the tiller in the dark corner of the shed.
2.) Blueberry varieties that do best in warm climates: Rabbit eye and Southern Highbush.
3.) Syrup: Maple trees aren’t the only trees that can be tapped for sweet syrup. Try Black Walnut and Sycamore trees.
4.) Recommended Soil Testing Lab: Timberleaf Soil Testing
5.) Farm Aid: www.FarmAid.org or call 1-800-FARMAID for advice, assistance, or resources for your farm. They also put on an annual benefit concert to help family farms.
6.) Fruit Tree Spray: as a preventative measure to black rot or other funky fruit tree diseases, an organic gardener can spray a Bordeaux mixture of copper sulfate to use while the trees are still dormant. Use with caution.
7.) Tomato Wilt Control: plant an early Fava bean cover crop (chopped into the soil before flowering) to reduce Verticillium/Fusarium wilt and (maybe) other fungal diseases in tomatoes.
8.) Charles Eisenstein, the key note speaker at the conference, is awesome. I won a silent auction 4-5 hour date with him :) http://charleseisenstein.net/
9.) 2 Nuggets of Knowledge from Jerry Brunneti:
- 50% of the earth’s biomass is microbes! Wow?!
- High potash levels in soil means good water retention, a.k.a. poor man’s irrigation.
10.) Don’t Buy Buckets: get food grade buckets for free from Dunk’n Doughnuts or a nearby grocery store.
11.) Extra credit since you made it this far: Go to the PASA conference next year, bring a few awesome ag friends along, and stay at 7 Mountain’s Campground. It’s much cheaper then a hotel, has a kitchen, comfy bunk beads and a fire pit! What more could you want????